Back-and-Forth, To-and-Fro: an Update Between Italia and Britannia…

H’oookaaay’aayyy! (That’s how many Italians say ‘okay’, y’know) I’m back! Yeah, just to update those interested, last week I came back again from bella Italia. Again? Yes, again. I keep on doing this thing of going to Italy and coming back to Britain only to then swiftly go back to Italy again and then it’s back and forth and to and fro and there and here for a little bit and so on, so on, per sempre. And now I’m going to tell you that I’ll be taking off back to Italy again in under three weeks time. I see a pattern here. Do you see a pattern here? I hope you’re not bored of all these ‘Sorry guys, gone to Italy’ notes. (If you are, well, sorry guys, I can’t do owt about that ’cause I’m going to Italy again.)

Whatever, for a relatively brief moment I’m here in England and it’s nice to be home in many ways but at the same time it’s not so nice in others. Do you see my sad face and pouting? Just know that there is a sad face and pouting and sometimes anguished, forlorn and teary-eyed outbursts of “ma perché?!” Leaving Italy is always a wrenching ordeal (punctuated by lots of expressive hand gesturing). I have all these feelings, guys, and the comedown can be (nay, is) sometimes brutal. Here, share in my grief pizza…

Ah, I miss pizza – and pizza is not about the pizza but about the people you’re eating pizza with, and I miss the people I’ve eaten pizza with. Anyway, putting my grief pizza to one side, I realise that all this to-ing and fro-ing has sorta-kinda positioned me in a constant state of flux. Right now I’m a bit of a drifter caught between two lands not knowing exactly where he’s up to or even who he really is anymore. Being back here in the summer, things don’t make sense. How can I can reconcile my Italian side and the rock-star status I have over there with my humdrum homeland state? (Rock star status from being an all-action almighty hero English teacher) I keep on thinking “Where are the children?! Where’s my fan club?!” and automatically using Italian words all over the place (and even though I’m nowhere near fluent, a lot of basic words trip off my tongue faster than English ones if I’m not thinking about things).

These are strange days I’m floating through, often in a dislocated haze. But that’s okay, because life is perpetual confusion and constantly trying to work out who you are, where you are and what this world and existence are all about (possible answers: “I am a pizza“, “I’m going through chaaaaaanges” and “don’t ask me“). In total – to try and make some kind of point before I pass on the maybe-important information – I’ll say this: there is a lot of movement and some confusion, but there is living in the moment and in the moments there is bliss and the realisation that life is living in the moment and that life is perpetual change. There’s my deep, philosophical, spiritual point.

Allora, the point I originally aimed to get in this blogblast at was this: I’m sort-of in-and-out-and-off-and-away at the moment but I am creatively juiced and regardless of where I am I’m going to be knocking stuff out (all kinds of stuff) and uploading it onto the interwebs. New projects are being spawned and they will see daylight fairly soon on all the usual channels. I’m also thinking about makeovers and upheavals and ripping-up-and-starting-agains and fresh conjurings. We will see and you will see in time…

For now, there’s a lot of doodle action happening up on Instagram and, simultaneously, on my doodle blog. In addition to that tonight – Friday 24th July, from 10pm to 1am – I’ll be making a cameo appearance comeback rocking out and sharing anecdotes on BBC Radio Lancashire’s FNAT show. The rest is all secrets and esoteric mysteries, conceived in a hot ambivalent mess of bittersweet emotions and beautiful memories. Oh, and it’s also partly fuelled by grief pizza, so I’ve got to go back and get some real pizza and share it with great, real people. That’s what I will do and the adventure carries on, so here’s to adventure, creative action and being alive…

H’oookkkaaay’aaay? Good. Bear with me, watch this space and I’ll keep you in the loop. In the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other – live in the moment as much as possible and live good… 😀

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Epic Advent(ure) Time Christmas Countdown Sketch Action…

Hark! It’s the first day of December and that means it’s time to open up the first door (or window or portal or eyeball) on the Advent Calendar. I did that and here’s what I found…

Hey! It’s an adventure! Every day until Christmas Eve I’m going to be doodling a similar adventure for my Adventure Calendar. Adventure Calendar. You see how that works? And that’s what I’m going to be working over the next few weeks as a daily creative exercise. Inspired by festive good-feeling, a fondness for short-and-specific-time-sensitive drawing projects and my love for fantasy and stuff like Adventure Time, here’s a new project. I intend to draw up a fresh scenario every day and simultaneously stick it up on my ‘art’ blog and on my Instagram feed.

Otherwise, more Christmas cheer will be coming to the interwebs very soon and you’ll find details in my weekly newsletter/blogblasts, if you wish to read them. In the meantime, Happy December and here’s to the season and adventures!

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Jumping Off Point’…

*Retro alarms beep and boop, strings twitch, strung-out nerves spasm* Hey! What’s the action? The action is this: tomorrow I’m going to the Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds. I’m also writing stuff and, thinking about writing stuff, I acknowledged that I’m still behind on my Pictonaut Challenge catch-up mission. With comics on my mind, I decided to knock up a story in that format.

Thus, the late, late, very-late entry for the July Pictonaut Challenge – set, as always, by the feted, formidable and part-time ferocious John Steele – is a script for a silly two-page comic. It is inspired by this image created by Polish artist Michał Karcz

The Lair update by Karezoid

“The Lair” by Michał Karcz…

The story is called ‘Jumping Off Point‘ and you can read it by clicking right here. There is no art so you’ll just have to imagine what the finished comic would look like, though my attached rough layouts might help (I always do rough layouts before writing a comic script. I think visually like that.) More Pictonaut stories should be coming soon because I fully intend to fill in the blanks and catch up on all those I’ve missed (both writing them and reading them). Until then, feel free to look back at old ones or, better yet, read this fresh one. I hope you enjoy this and Thought Bubble if you’re going. If not, enjoy life anyway…

(By the way, I have no idea why I turned into a Stingray puppet at the start of his blogpost. I think I just wanted to say “What’s the action?” and was ruminating on underground complexes and things escalated from there. Don’t worry because I’m not a puppet. I’m a real boy. Anyone who finds me in Leeds tomorrow will see that there are no strings on me. Erm, yes. As you were and enjoy…)

 

 

A Whole Hock of Halloween Horror…

Hail hail! Happy Halloween! I hope you’re enjoying your All Hallow’s Eve however you’re choosing to mark it and that this finds you in good spirits (possibly with good spirits. Or maybe by now you are a good spirit. Or the spirits could be bad and, if that’s the case, I can come of over tomorrow morning to perform the necessary exorcisms. I can do that for you. Yes, I can…)

Anyhow, here are a few timely tricks and treats to commemorate the occasion. I’ve now finished my month-long sketch kick which was Schlocktober Horror and the whole rogue’s gallery of grim entities and monstrous beings can be found on my sketch blog or on my Instagram feed. They may raise a few chuckles or chills down your spine. Feel free to steal my ideas and turn them into successful trash horror film franchises (I’m really looking forward to seeing ‘The Mixtape That Should Have Been Left Behind: The Movie’.)

Elsewhere, I figured that my Friday Den of Geek column this week would be a Halloween special and I thought about the pop cultural things that unnerve me the most. Ultimately I worked out that that was H.P. Lovecraft so I spent the best part of the past fortnight re-reading a whole load of Lovecraft ’cause I love, love, love Lovecraft and I’m a guy who loves to freak himself out. As a result I have been extra-disturbed lately (damn you Howard Philips!) but the outcome is an article on one of my favourite authors for Den of Geek with ideas about how some of his best stories could be adapted as feature-length movies…

And that’s not all fiends, erm, friends. Tonight I’m going to dress up (read: attack myself with hairwax and eyeliner) and head out into the night to Blackburn (’tis a very scary place) for rock ‘n’ roll radio action. Instead of doing what I normally do on Halloween (confusing kids who’ve never encountered anyone in drag or anyone who wants to talk to them about H.P. Lovecraft instead of giving them sweets) I’m going to be making one of my occasional ‘guest‘ appearances on BBC Radio Lancashire‘s FNAT show. Tune in from 10pm until 1am (or later on on the iPlayer) if you want to listen to an eclectic rock music mix and irreverent rambling. I intend to force a lot of seasonally-suitable metal on proceedings…

*waves hands, secret signs* As you were. Enjoy and have a very Happy Halloween… *sound of membranous flapping wings*

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Schlocktober Horror no. 31: Halloweenzilla… #Schlocktober

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Upheaval, and ‘How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps’…

By the bushy tail of Ratatoskr! It’s been aeons since I uploaded something onto this blog space so, feeling the need to rectify that, here I go. Some context first: I am currently in a state that’s best labelled as ‘Upheaval’. ‘Upheaval’, as a matter of fact, sounds like a really good name for the summer house I’m going to build in Asgard at some point. “Good morning Odin! How do? Would you lie to come in for a brew?” “Mornin’ kiddo! Aye, grand! Don’t mind if I leave these here dead Frost-Giant bits on ya lawn f’ra bit d’ya?

Anyhoder, coming back down to Upheaval on Midgard, erm, Earth and this is where I’m sitting. I’m in the middle space between working at Italian summer camps, in the middle of family home total redecoration/overhaul and, altogether, in the middle of a great deal of confusion. It’s just about several shades less chaotic than Ragnarök. Still, in spite of all of that – in spite of the fact that all my junk is in boxes and that I’m sleeping on the floor and feeling out of sorts and out of order – creative action has still been happening and is happening. Den of Geek columns have been manifesting themselves and I was fortunate enough to get away for a week’s retreat in the Shropshire countryside recently. While there I got chance to focus my mind on creative projects and get a clear sense of certain secret things so I am now very excited about certain secret things which I will not talk about because they are certain secret things.

While there I spent some time going through ze process of revisiting abandoned ideas and old projects and, as part of that, I rediscovered things that I’d completely forgotten about. One thing was a surreal piece of writing that I’d had fun with and submitted to a literary journal. Having browsed the internet a bit to check, I’m pretty sure that this thing didn’t make the cut, so I may as well share it here. It may entertain you or enlighten you (or save your life!). I’ll leave it here and go back to dancing through this Upheaval – here’s a handy guide for you titled ‘How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps‘…


 How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps

Are you feeling unwell? Do you have a sense that you are not quite yourself? Are you harbouring acute suspicions that you may be a victim of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia – the increasingly common albeit unexplained malady vexing the medical establishment and respectable-and-unrespectable society?

If so, do not worry excessively, for a diagnosis can be made effectively by the patient herself/himself/itself. Simply follow the following steps and follow up with a visit to your local professional general practitioner or verified witchdoctor if you feel that, yes, you have come down with a severe case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia.

Step 1

Look in the mirror. Does the reflection look like the reflection that you recognise and would identify as yourself?

Step 2

Cut your fingernails, your toenails, your nostril hairs, your pubic hairs and your belly-button hairs. Can you distinguish any trace of exposed nerve endings in the trimmed and depilated areas? If you do spy exposed nerve endings, would you describe their condition as “harried”, “agitated” or “German Expressionism”?

Step 3

Touch your nose. Touch your toes. Touch your clothes. Are you finding this simple rhythmic touching sequence in any way difficult or painful, either physically or mentally? (If you are not wearing clothes, try the test again once dressed or, at-least, half-dressed if you are having problems locating your full wardrobe.)

Step 4

Breathe in and hold the breath for ten seconds. Now breathe out and hold for ten seconds. Repeat several times and then, when ready, reduce the time allotted for the holding of inhalations and exhalations to five seconds. Repeat five times and then hold the inhalations and exhalations for three-and-a-half seconds. After five repetitions of this breathing pattern, hold in-breaths for two seconds and out-breaths for six seconds. After seven repetitions, reverse so that out-breaths are two seconds and in-breaths are six seconds, then equalise after forty seconds so that all inhalations and exhalations are five-and-a-half seconds in length. Are you finding breathing difficult?

Step 5

Pass urine into a small vial as a sample for close scrutiny. Is it a colour outside of the conventional Flat Champagne-Meyer Lemon spectrum? (Retain this urine sample for a future step.)

Step 6

Reflect upon your recent behaviour. Have you noticed any troubles when asked to observe and fulfil simple requests, obey orders or comply with clear demands? For example, did you discard the urine sample you were asked for in Step 5 (see above) in spite of the explicit instruction that it was to be retained?

Step 7

Pour yourself a glass of water. Empty the urine sample collected in Step 5 into another glass. Place on a solid, level surface. Observe both closely and wait until you receive communications from the liquids before you. In your experience, is it the urine that appears to express the message “DRINK ME” first? (Note: it is not advisable to drink the urine, no matter how persuasive said urine may be.)

Step 9

Walk backwards for a distance of at least one country mile. Do you have the sensation that you are walking forwards with your head on back-to-front?

Step 10

Check your internal compasses. Are they pointing to somewhere other than the True North? Are you finding it impossible to locate your internal compass or, likewise, are they finding proving to be incapable of finding you or True North?

Step 8

Observe your relationship to the imminent environment and the chronological unfolding of reality around you. Does it seem like you are experiencing things in the wrong order?

Step 11

Check your chromatic sensory perception. Are you seeing a lot of indigo? Are you smelling a lot of indigo? Are you tasting and hearing a lot of indigo? Are you feeling indigo? Indigo?

Step 12

Sit still for several moments and attempt to scrutinise your faculties of logic and reason. Do you illogical feel that trouble life having jumbled and because sense don’t make are you comprehending jumbled appears it all to be and understanding having up are you things?

Step 13

Ask yourself the following critical life-changing question. Would you like to suffer from a rare, interesting, definitely-spurious psychological disorder?

If, having attempted all the steps, you feel satisfied that you are a victim of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia, congratulations!

As advised in the introductory paragraph, please take this opportunity to consult with a medical professional and/or accredited witchdoctor for a confirmed diagnosis so you can proceed with your condition appropriately.

Enjoy your illness* responsibly.

(* “Illness”? Whoa now, sugar. I think we need to have a conversation about labels and stigma…)

‘We Made It’ Issue #2: Fantastical Unicorn-Themed Zine Action…

What is best in life? Some people would answer “fat unicorns“. Those people have a good point. Rembrand Le Compte is one of those people and he decided that fat unicorns should be the theme for the second issue of the We Made It zine that he edits. That zine is now here…

It’s a very nice anthology package packed full of sweet illustrations/stories/poems/photos from a diverse array of ace artists, all inspired by the fat unicorn theme. I’m happy and humbled to be in there alongside them, for this issue features some of my work as well – a comic titled ‘Una the Aurous ——-‘. Cheri Borgstrom illustrated the short story and she brought the whole thing to life and turned my idea into something beautiful. I’m really pleased with the end result and it’s a thrill to see something I wrote made real as a printed comic that I can hold in my hands.

We Made It. Yes we did, and you can see what we made by ordering issues – print or digital – from the We Made It site. You might also be interested in the first issue – themed around Whales – which features my short prose story/alternate history ramble ‘Whale Caesar’. You also might be interested in submitting to future issues, so keep an eye out for news of issue 3.

What is best in life? Well, if it isn’t fat unicorns, it’s probably making things. Yeah, I think that might be it…

Barbarians Work (and Kill) on Bank Holidays…

Yesterday it was a bank holiday, but I don’t think we should have holidays for banks. Really, banks are among the most awful institutions ever conceived. I’m thinking about banks and feeling nauseous. Ick. Oh, I’d love to to live in a world bereft of such things alongside people and creatures who do not care for economic systems and suchlike. Barbarians who inhabit fantastical realms only visitable within the imagination care not for banks. Barbarians of said fantastical realms do not take bank holidays either. Yeah, let’s trip back to yesterday and head over to those realms…

Yesterday The Working Barbarian was working (what bank holiday?) for a new chapter surfaced in cyberspace. The collaborative crowd-sourced saga continues apace and it fell up on me to take the narrative on after the climax of our hero Jala’s boss battle with the dread Magebane. Readers voted on the story’s direction and decided that Jala should kill the villain, so I have duly killed her. You can read that in the new instalment – chapter the two-and-twentieth which is titled Death Drives. After reading you then get to cast your vote and choose where we go from here. I encourage you to do so, and you can always go back through the various chapters or check the Recap-O-Rama I wrote if you need to get up to speed with the unfolding story and surrounding mythos we’ve built up.

I will leave you with the power metal-heavy Working Barbarian Workout Mixtape I used as mood music for writing the fresh episode. Savage sounds for scripting slaughter can be found in the playlist. It might make excellent motivational music for your next visit to the bank…

 

The Total 2013 Backtrack Trip Before We Bring the Axe Down Ahead of New Year Revolutions…

I’m bringing down the axe on 2013…

It’s New Year’s Eve, so following on from the end-of-year musical retrospective of the other day and doing what it seems right to do at the calendar climax, here’s another look-back blog post. I will keep it brief and will try not to be boring and self-indulgent. In truth, the coming of a New Year is always an auspicious opportunity to eyeball boringness and self-indulgence and say “A pox on all your pernicious devices! Begone!” And then we explode boringness, self-indulgence and their dyspeptic brethren with our Positive Mental Attitude in a multiple-Boss Fight and level up. Erm, yeah. Basically I’m just going to write my personal sheepdip blogpost equivalent of Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe though I guarantee that it won’t be as funny or as depressing as that. If you want a more worldly or insightful view on all that’s happened this year, all the newspapers and websites in the Solar System have got you more than covered. You can navel-gaze and dwell in premature-nostalgia as much as you want – it’s all out there…

Anyway, armed with the extra experience (accumulated in the multiple-Boss Fight) and resolve to get on with it, here’s the rest of the round-up of my 2013. All in all, it was a pretty good year and I’ve done some cool things and had some awemazing experiences. The highlight of the highlights was definitely spending the entirety of June in Italy, going back out there to work as a English-language summer camp tutor in Italy. I got to see old friends, make new friends and have an absolute blast with the bambini in a country and culture I love. I cherish all the memories of Milano, Torino, Borgo val di Taro and all the things I saw, did, soaked up and appreciated on the way. Good times…

Trip-wise, a birthday weekend excursion to London to see Shakespeare on stage (Macbeth at The Globe, no less) was special. Also special was watching the Charlie Chaplin silent masterpiece Modern Times with a live orchestra accompaniment at the Royal Northern College of Music. I also got to see some heroes this year and had starstruck moments in front of Neil Gaiman and Matt Fraction. Sticking with comics, Exhibiting at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds was a really good time. Oh and while my mind’s in Yorkshire I remember that I actually drove over the Pennines and automobiled over Britain’s highest stretch of motorway for my Pass Plus lesson. I passed my driving test in February! Achievement! An achievement completely forgotten because I don’t have access to a car but, hey, I passed!

Achievements otherwise generally revolve around creative output and I’ve churned out a lot of mess over the past 12 months (though never as much as I’d like). Den of Geek columns most weeks; Alternate Reality News and the Alternate Reality News Timequake Expanded Edition reboot; several Fight! Fight! Fight! episodes; a number of Working Barbarian instalments; monthly Pictonaut short story experiments; several doodly projects like #DrawAugust and the Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar; and a whole lot of stuff that no one will ever see or that people will hopefully see once I’ve done the necessary reprocessing, perfecting or completing. I’ve got a lot of things in pipelines, in notebooks, in neglected files, in locked-up parts of my brain and in other places out of sight but I can smell them and they’re scaring me and i’m going to have to face them at some point before they become even more fearsome. 2014 is ‘get your hands dirty and wrassle with demons’, time…

Before then, though, I’ll tie up 2013 with a few cultural highlights. My favourite comics of the year have been Battling Boy by Paul Pope and Hawkeye (or Hawkguy) by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. I’ve also been getting jazzed about Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals in recent months and am ultra, ultra excited about catching up on with all the Mike Mignola-related comics (B.P.R.D. and Hellboy) that came to stay at Christmas. Televisually, everything is ultimately overshadowed by the end of Spartacus and I was in mourning for a week when it finished.

Really, I don’t watch a massive amount of TV because most of my square-eye time takes place at the cinema. I used and abused my Cineworld Unlimited card to maximum this year and saw over 100 films. That’s an unhealthy amount of time sitting alone in the dark crying about people who aren’t real but, hey, I got to see some great movies and I enjoyed and got something out of most of them. Trying to nail it down to an exclusive few (I like pretty much everything so it’s hard) my favourite films released in 2013 were Only God Forgives, Gravity, Stoker, Pacific Rim, Pain & Gain, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Way, Way Back. My sweetest movie memory would be getting so high on Pacific Rim that after watching it I ran all the way home punching imaginary kaiju monsters. Yes, that happened…

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix...

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix…

I also experimented with growing a beard for a bit, participated in an all-day meditation retreat for the first time (it was cold and uncomfortable battling with my mind in silence) and dressed up as a pretty witch for Halloween. I’m sure that there’s loads more but I’m going to bring the axe down on this self-indulgent bore ramble and put the year to bed (graveyard bed ’cause ding dong the year is dead. I’ve put an axe through its chest and it breathes no more). 2013 is beasted and I’ve levelled up to bounce my way through 2014 which is an even more exciting stage with fresh challenges. I have more powers, I have more experience and I’m game on to have some fun in the future and get better on the way.

On with the New Year Revolutions (I have so many) and ‘thanks ta-ra’ to 2013, then. Thanks and appreciative cyber-hugs are also sent out to everyone who’s been nice to me this year and taken a moment to give me or my shenanigans some consideration. And with that I’m off into the future. Happy New Year and see you in 2014…